Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman


Would the Founders Oppose or Support Prayer in School?

posted by swaldman

founding faith ppbk.JPG2.JPGThe paperback edition of my book, Founding Faith, comes out this week. It makes a perfect Ides of March present! Buy it here.
I thought I’d use the anniversary to reflect a bit on the reaction the book has gotten.
In doing many speeches and media appearances on the book, there have been a few recurring questions. I thought in the next few days I’d lay out those questions and how I’ve attempted to answer them (as well as any new questions y’all post to the comment thread)
Here’s the first one:
What would the Founders make of the Supreme Court decision eliminating prayer in school?
First, it depends which founder you’re talking to. There’s really no such thing as “The Founding Fathers” when it comes to religious liberty. Madison would be thrilled. He really was a hardcore believer in separation. Adams was more comfortable with church-state intermingling, defending for a long time Massachusetts right to have Congregationalism as the official state religion.
Second — and here’s the part liberals may not want to hear — the First Amendment needs to be seen in part as a states rights compromise. Some members of Congress, like Madison, wanted separation of church and state throughout the land but others just wanted to make sure the national government would leave the states alone – including letting them regulate religion as much as they want. At the point the constitution was ratified 11 of the 13 states still had rules banning people of certain faiths — e.g. Jews, atheists, Catholics — from holding office. Some members of Congress wanted to preserve that freedom to discriminate.
Madison hated that — but he didn’t have the votes to impose his will. If you pulled them from the antechamber back then and asked about prayer in school, they would have all said — some happily and some with frustration — that it was entirely up to the states.
Now, if the Founders were transported here to 2009, the first thing you’d have to do is catch them up on a few things — notably the civil war and the subsequent passage of the 14th Amendment, in which the 19th century lawmakers decided that many of the decisions left to the states shoudn’t have been. Madison would have been relieved; others would bemoan the lack of Bible teaching.
But the line in my speeches that invariably causes the most murmering is when I turn to the conservatives in the audience and say, “Putting aside the Constitutional issues, why on earth would you want the government involved in religion? I mean, you think (often appropriately) that government messes up anything it touches — from health care to housing. So why would you want it anywhere near your religion? What makes you think the state education “bureaucrats’ who manage your schools so well would do any better with your prayers?”
To me, Madison’s greatest insight was that even government efforts to help religion will end up hurting religion.
So, to answer the question, there would undoubtedly be some Founders who would be upset that we don’t have prayer in public schools. Not Madison. He’d be thrilled.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(24)
post a comment
Ned Cassles

posted March 10, 2009 at 10:26 pm


The government should never exercise control over any religious tradition, except in the prevention of harm to citizens outside of that tradition. Likewise, no religion should hold sway over the government that preserves the rights of all the people it serves. Regardless of how it is spent, government monies distributed to any religious organization cannot be prevented from promoting that religion or their proselytizing to the people it aids. A religions order cannot help being influenced by a government that finances them or their endeavors. Even the practice of tax exemptions for religious organizations should be scrutinized. Tax exemptions are always just another form of welfare.
For the protection of the faith shared by an abundance of US citizens, James Madison, Father of Our Constitution, Author of the Bill of Rights, wrote, “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects? ” ~Memorial and Remonstrance~



report abuse
 

Joe Cassles

posted March 10, 2009 at 10:35 pm


You are free to practice your religion anywhere you wish, but not at the expense of other people’s religions. We can have all the public prayer you wish as long as I get to pick the prayer. See the problem? You cannot pray your particular religious prayer at school over and above the prayers of others or no prayer at all, for those who don’t believe. You cannot force the teaching of creationism in a science class because you may believe it, over and above an accepted science with empirical evidence. You cannot force your religions view of marriage on the citizens of the US at the expense of the rights of others. You cannot force my children to pray a prayer, say a pledge, be subjected to the falsehood of a 6,000 year old earth occupied by men and dinosaurs simultaneously, restrict their contraceptive use or control their reproductive rights because of your religious bent. I am a devout Christian, but I absolutely insist on the separation of Church and State to protect my religious beliefs from people that would insist on subjecting me to their beliefs. Here is what Tom said. Please read and try to understand that it is in your interest and protection that he wrote it.
“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the,”wall of separation of church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”
~Thomas Jefferson: Author of the Declaration of Independence; Third president of the
United States of America; Co-author of the United States Constitution……….



report abuse
 

Mason Colbert

posted March 11, 2009 at 7:27 am


I personally believe in the separation of church and state, reason being is because not everyone in America is a Christian- though all we hear is Christian prayers. Although America is mostly Protestant and Catholic, the minorities rights should be considered as well. Regardless of what our founding father might have believed in- today, I say, it is wrong to offer any school prayers. If teachers and students wish to pray privately, they may do so- but they will refrain from being public about it. That is how I feel with all religions, not just Christian or Jewish ones.
If schools choose to have prayers, they should realize that religion is a very difficult issue, one that should be approached with caution. I believe that schools are for education only, not conforming students to one belief or at least giving them the impression that theres is they only they accept.



report abuse
 

frgough

posted March 11, 2009 at 10:53 am


The blog author is simply wrong about Madison. Madison quotes the Bible during the convention and used it as an inspiration for the form the new government was to take. In 1812, President Madison signed a federal bill to provide economic aid to the Bible Society of Philadelphia to aid in its goal of mass distributing the Bible.
The problem is that the blog author makes the same mistake many modern people do, using modern definitions of words. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, religion did not mean a general concept like Christianity, it was a synonym for church. Religionists were people zealous toward a particular church and its formulas, rituals etc. Catholics were often called religionists or papists. Itinerant preachers during the great awakenings would refer to people practicing the formal rituals of the high churches as religionists. So, when Madison talks about separation of church and state (jefferson, too) they are talking about denominations, not Christianity. And, in fact, Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist association, where he cites the wall between church and state was to reassure the association that the state would not interfere with them.
All the founding fathers today would be horrified at the secularization of our government, for while they did not want the state creating official churches, they all agreed that Christianity and its moral code was absolutely essential to the survival of the republic.
In fact, it was Benjamin Franklin, whom many modern scholars would consider one of the least religious members of the constitutional convention who called for the convention to engage in daily prayer to God for wisdom, declaring to them that it was foolish to attempt to form a government based on their own wisdom and understanding.



report abuse
 

hootie1fan

posted March 11, 2009 at 12:59 pm


The Founding Fathers and their religious practices/morality has been conveniently changed/forgotten/never researched to fit the needs of today’s social conservative, evangelical Christians. They don’t want to hear that 18th century religious practices could have been non-existent, convenient, piously followed, or that the divinity of Jesus was in doubt for some. They don’t want to hear about infidelity, lack of church attendance or belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.
No, today’s modern hard-line Christians want to re-write history in some misguided attempt to convince the world that their way has been the only way since this country was founded.



report abuse
 

Greg

posted March 11, 2009 at 3:08 pm


frgough, it is you who are wrong, as evidenced from the quote above from Ned Cassles. You can read the text here:
http://religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.edu/sacred/madison_m&r_1785.html
“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?”



report abuse
 

Steven Waldman

posted March 11, 2009 at 3:45 pm


frgough, so many Madison writings contradict your assertion. I’d encourage you to buy the book — cheap now that it’s in paperback! — and I’d love to talk further. here’s one example: late in life, Madison is arguing that their approach improved the quality of religion:
“the number, the industry, and the morality of the Preisthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State.”
also:
“We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.”
Note the word at the end of the sentence is not “interference” or “regulation” or “establishment” – but “cognizance.” Madison was suggesting the radical argument that religion should not even be in the sphere of consciousness of civil authorities. It wasn’t a matter of good regulation or bad, intrusive or liberal, hostile or helpful, heavy-handed or dainty. Religion should be simply and thoroughly off-limits.



report abuse
 

frgough

posted March 12, 2009 at 11:06 am


Greg,
And yet Madison signed into law a bill that gave money for the distribution of Bibles. So, the key here is to take all statements in their proper context. Which context is that Madison did not have a serious problem with the promotion of religion, but rather the state sanctioned establishment of religion. The issue is that many secularists today deliberately confuse promotion with establishment. Obviously, Madison did not have a moral contradiction between saying on the one hand that the state should not have power to establish a religion, and yet sign a bill that promoted a religion (Christianity). The logical conclusion is that to Madison, establishment of a religion was something similar to what had occurred in Britain and in Germany, where a specific religion was mandated by the state, taxes were raised to support and fund it, and individuals needed to be a member of it in order to hold public office. It is a modern bastardization of this original concept that has led us to removing prayer from public schools or outlawing the display of religious symbols on public property. Madison would have vehemently opposed these practices as unconstitutional government interference in religious expression by the people.



report abuse
 

frgough

posted March 12, 2009 at 11:20 am


@Steven Waldman
” ‘We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.’
“Note the word at the end of the sentence is not “interference” or “regulation” or “establishment” – but “cognizance.” Madison was suggesting the radical argument that religion should not even be in the sphere of consciousness of civil authorities. It wasn’t a matter of good regulation or bad, intrusive or liberal, hostile or helpful, heavy-handed or dainty. Religion should be simply and thoroughly off-limits.”
And yet you claim that Madison would be in favor of eliminating prayer from public schools, even though such an act is one of regulating religion and its expression by the state. Again, one needs to take Madison’s comments in conjunction with his actions. The fact that Madison signed a bill into law to provide funds for the distribution of Bibles, and that he cited the Bible as a source of inspiration when writing the constitution shows that Madison’s ideas of “hands off” meant state interference in religious expression. I strongly suspect that if Madison were alive today, he would tell you that the establishment of religion clause in the Constitution was intended as a buttress on the later clause about restricting the free exercise thereof.
In other words, Madison would almost certainly be in favor of voluntary religious displays on public property and voluntary religious expressions in public institutions. In fact, in the link provided by an earlier poster disagreeing with me, you will see that point 12 of Madison’s argument shows that he was in strong favor of the PROMOTION of Christianity, but not the coercion into Christianity.
Madison’s view on school prayer would almost certainly be one of strict neutrality. He would not support mandatory prayer, neither would he support the mandatory banning of prayer. The former would violate point 12 of his argument in the aforementioned link, while the latter would deny men their God-given right to exercise their religious conscience.
You will also see that Madison himself was a deeply religious man.



report abuse
 

Steven Waldman

posted March 12, 2009 at 5:10 pm


Madison definitely thought a goal of church-state policy shoudl be the flourishing of Christianity. But he thought the best way to insure that was to keep church and state far apart.
The best illustration was his opposition to the Virginia “assessment” for religious instruction. This was a liberal bill, sponsored by Patrick Henry, designed to HELP religion. It involved no restrictions, no regulations, no oppression. It was about supporting religion. Madison, and the Baptists, opposed it on the grounds that even well intentioned help would inevitably lead to excessive entanglement



report abuse
 

Bob

posted March 12, 2009 at 9:08 pm


does Steven waldman even know at all about history or does he know allot and tries to tweak it to make it come out the way he wants it to. there are to many books written today from authors who change history and it is pathetic. First ALL our founding fathers where deeply religios and wanted religion to be behind every decision that the government made including Madison. what they wanted to make sure was somebody’s religion could not be forced upone someone else, hence religions freedom. please look back in time and look at all the religions symbols that are through out government and what this country was born on religion and the freedom to chose what religious faith you wanted to follow. they would have demanded prayer in school thanking God for what we have and begging for forgiveness for the wrongs we have done. it would have been a non denominational prayer so as not to affect any religion and they would have said atheists just don’t say it. our founding fathers never in a million years thought politicians and lawyers would change there words around and ruin this great country of ours. if our founding fathers including Madison could see what we have turned there world into they would be crushed and extremely disappointed. I also think he would have been smacked across the face with a glove and challenged to a duel for being a lying deceptive useless human being, who probably would have ran away and hide like the coward he is. We can only hope some day we will have a truthful respectful government who will realize what the founding fathers set up what the American soldier has fought for and fix it.



report abuse
 

frgough

posted March 13, 2009 at 10:41 am


@Steve
The virginia assessment was what I was referring to in my follow up post to you. You conclusion is wrong. If you read Madison’s arguments, he was arguing for strict government neutrality, not separation. Read his points of argument.
Following Madison’s logic, he would NOT be in favor of banning prayer. Neither would he be in favor of mandating it. Madison’s philosophy was not one of separation between church and state in the modern sense, but rather one of strict neutrality by the state in all matters regarding religion. The state was not to interfere in religion in any manner whatsoever, either by prohibition or by coercion.
Madison strongly felt that Christianity flourished best when left to the individual to promote and practice. The state should have no say in religious expression one way or the other. To take that attitude and declare that Madison would therefore support the banning of prayer in public school, or in any public capacity for that matter is to completely misunderstand the man and his writings.



report abuse
 

frgough

posted March 13, 2009 at 10:42 am


@Steve
The virginia assessment was what I was referring to in my follow up post to you. You conclusion is wrong. If you read Madison’s arguments, he was arguing for strict government neutrality, not separation. Read his points of argument.
Following Madison’s logic, he would NOT be in favor of banning prayer. Neither would he be in favor of mandating it. Madison’s philosophy was not one of separation between church and state in the modern sense, but rather one of strict neutrality by the state in all matters regarding religion. The state was not to interfere in religion in any manner whatsoever, either by prohibition or by coercion.
Madison strongly felt that Christianity flourished best when left to the individual to promote and practice. The state should have no say in religious expression one way or the other. To take that attitude and declare that Madison would therefore support the banning of prayer in public school, or in any public capacity for that matter is to completely misunderstand the man and his writings.



report abuse
 

anonymous

posted March 14, 2009 at 9:13 pm


Well, lots of founding fathers were home schooled, and part of their schooling was being good British Subjects, and like someone majoring in poetry, after the American Revolution, where America became a separate country, British-Americans right to rule themselves, all that learning to be a good British subject, like Washington learning how to fox-hunt, became useless. Then Thomas Jefferson and UVA, the only schools around were Harvard and Yale, Kings College, where Hamilton went to, William and Mary, which Jefferson went to. Georgetown, a Jesuit school, would be founded 1863, in Lincoln’s era. Horace Mann, the educator would not make his impact till 1837, one year after the last founding father died-Madison. So asking a founding father about prayer in school would be a lot like asking them about Space Exploration under NASA. They wouldn’t know what to say because its a foreign concept. Also, I hate to break it to Mr. Waldman, but the first amendment and the other nine, were adopted by Madison after anti-federalists, led by Patrick Henry and George Mason, feared there were no protections for the common man,as part of the Revolution was against absolute authority in a monarch-which declared divine right. Mason became estranged from Washington over this. Further, no one talks about the 3rd amendment to the Constitution, which protects citizens from being forced to care for soldiers, as the lead up to the Revolutionary War, British soldiers simply didn’t care that they used other people’s homes for their self-interest. This is called quartering soldiers. On top of that is the fact that the first amendment,which every person who’s taken high school civics or a college level political science class knows, is five freedoms, the freedom to worship, freedom from worship, freedom of the press, freedom to petition your government for past grievances, and, freedom of speech. The 10 amendment, which has nothing to do with religion, firmly states, that anything not listed above in the other nine in terms of power the Federal Government has, are powers the states and the people keep. All throughout the presidential election of 1996, Bob Dole kept referring to this amendment, and by extension, the Republican Party post-Reagan, has been referring to this amendment. This all reminds me a political cartoon attacking Intelligent Design, and it had to do with American History, Intelligent Design History. And the teachers says, “the presidency of FDR is only a theory.” I would recommend Mr. Waldmen go to a place called a University, where he can take a class in the section called Political Science. In that class he’ll learn from a liberal arts professor what the US Constitution is.



report abuse
 

JR

posted March 15, 2009 at 6:30 am


Some practical advise to science educators.I am one. When teaching the section on evolution, questions will arise about the bible contradicting what I am trying to teach. Simply say; I will tell you one undeniable truth. “you will be asked to understand and demonstrate your knowedge of evolution and its principles on the SAT,ACT, MCAT, nursing boards etc..,You will not be asked on any of the tests about Jesus and the bible.So lets move on. It works great



report abuse
 

JR

posted March 15, 2009 at 8:07 am


“I dont have to read any history books or science books,eveything I need to know is in this book right here(the bible)”
This is the sentiment of a huge percentage of the US population.The founding fathers political life, then as now (current politians), understand this dynamic well.People who belive this way are for votes and public sentimate for an agenda.They realized that rational conversation with these people is futile but they are needed in a democratic society. The guy who writes about Madison signing a bill to distribute bibles is “demonstration of his christianity” is deceiving himself. This was a political move to placate the masses.Sound familiar? We want our children to be educated by truth and transparacy. Not by flavor of the decade preachers who promote intolerance.



report abuse
 

Marian

posted March 15, 2009 at 6:38 pm


Most of the people who claim the only book they need to read is the Bible haven’t read the Bible either.



report abuse
 

Richard

posted March 15, 2009 at 7:12 pm


The leading founding fathers, for the most part, were deists. The separation of church and state was very important to them. Remember many of their fathers left the old world to escape persecution from OTHER CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS!



report abuse
 

hootie1fan

posted March 16, 2009 at 9:37 am


Amen to that Marian
Or else they have very selective amnesia.



report abuse
 

David

posted March 17, 2009 at 1:58 am


I have been reading a book called Descartes Bones which clearly states that most of your “founding Fathers” were Deists ie believed that Nature was god and that god was not a being that could play any willful role in human affairs. Einstein who was very much a man of the enlightenment was very much in tune with this. He said that he believed in Spinosa’s (Jewish Enlightenment Philosopher) god and his take on God was what we call now call pantheism. Einstein further wrote in 1917 “I see that it is written that God punishes his children for their foolishness, for which he only has himself to blame. Therefor the only excuse for God would be his NON-EXISTENCE.
Ben Franklin rewrote the bible removing all references to miracles.
Any support they gave to fundamentalist religion was that a politician who does not believe gives in order to get support from religious people to further their political objectives.
A secular (like most of us) Canadian



report abuse
 

anonymous

posted March 17, 2009 at 2:43 am


Actually you mean Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson’s Bible is sold, among other places, Monticello. Other than that, your post is good. I don’t know much on Einstein , but I’m pretty sure its all correct.
The Ben Franklin/Thomas Jefferson slip up, is worth a lot just for spirit.



report abuse
 

frgough

posted March 17, 2009 at 10:27 am


@Richard,
Deism is not secularism. The case for Franklin and Washington being Deists, is fairly weak. Franklin called for prayer to God during the Constitutional convention, that He might grant wisdom to those present, something a Deist, who believed that God set the universe into motion and then had no more involvement in it, would never do. Likewise the diaries of associates of Washington often mention him engaged in fervent prayer. A large number of founding fathers were overtly Christian, however, including John Adams and James Madison. And even, Jefferson, the most overtly Deist of the group, did not reject the Bible or it’s teachings, only the miraculous nature of Christ. He did, however, accept it as a book of moral truth that should be adhered to and followed.
Attempting to claim that Deism is similar to secularism or atheism is simply wrong.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted March 17, 2009 at 2:59 pm


I don’t have any quotes, but I think its important to enjoy our religion, this debate seems to me, I’ve heard a alot of clergy say “Get out of Gods way.” Sounds sweet. Kids are more able to deal with fear than you know, than I know (ie. does God exist). Rather, they find peace in their mutual acceptance of one another, what I myself seek at 35.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted March 21, 2009 at 9:20 pm


I do not know how the founding father’s would view this or anything else taking place today. However, the debate over – deist – christian – athiest – whatever is irrelevant also. Why pray in school? Why pray anywhere? My question is – Why not? I taught in the public schools for some years. I grew up in the public schools. At that time, we every day had a ritual of – a brief word regarding kindness to animals – a brief word concerning abstinence from alcohol – a reading of religious nature – and a brief prayer.
A very altruistic way to begin the morning. A good way to set a good tone for the day. If you argue – well, somebody may take offense to the way someone prays. If this is true, perhaps that somebody needs a lesson in tolerance and understanding. Perhaps a lot of the violence found in schools today would be out the window with a good word and a good prayer each morning. I do not think that god wants to be left out or the day.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!
Thank you for visiting this page. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Top Religious News Most Recent Inspiration Post Happy Reading!

posted 6:00:22pm Apr. 20, 2012 | read full post »

Good Bye
Today is my last day at Beliefnet (which I co-founded in 1999). The swirling emotions: sadness, relief, love, humility, pride, anxiety. But mostly deep, deep gratitude. How many people get to come up with an idea and have rich people invest money to make it a reality? How many people get to create

posted 8:37:24am Nov. 20, 2009 | read full post »

"Steven Waldman Named To Lead Commission Effort on Future of Media In a Changing Technological Landscape" (FCC Press Release)
STEVEN WALDMAN NAMED TO LEAD COMMISSION EFFORT ON FUTURE OF MEDIA IN A CHANGING TECHNOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE FCC chairman Julius Genachowski announced today the appointment of Steven Waldman, a highly respected internet entrepreneur and journalist, to lead an agency-wide initiative to assess the state o

posted 11:46:42am Oct. 29, 2009 | read full post »

My Big News
Dear Readers, This is the most difficult (and surreal) post I've had to write. I'm leaving Beliefnet, the company I co-founded in 1999. In mid November, I'll be stepping down as President and Editor in Chief to lead a project on the future of the media for the Federal Communications Commission, the

posted 1:10:11pm Oct. 28, 2009 | read full post »

"Beliefnet Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Steps Down to Lead FCC Future of the Media Initiative" (Beliefnet Press Release)
October 28, 2009 BELIEFNET CO-FOUNDER AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF STEPS DOWN TO LEAD FCC FUTURE OF THE MEDIA INITIATIVE New York, NY - October 28, 2009 - Beliefnet, the leading online community for inspiration and faith, announced today that Steven Waldman, co-founder, president and editor-in-chief, will re

posted 1:05:43pm Oct. 28, 2009 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.